—About this Film
I recently went to the movies, and the feature I wanted to see was sold out so I decided to catch a movie that my future son-in-law had told me about, titled Cellular. It didn’t take long to figure out I was going to enjoy this movie. Larry Cohen, who had also written a similar movie titled Phone Booth, wrote this one as well. Cohen again brings us a white-knuckle, deep-breathing thriller that is not only filled with action, it is filled with life lessons.
While there are similarities, there are enough differences to allow the two movies to stand on their own, with their own themes and characters. The main similarity between the two is that a person picks up a phone call from someone he doesn’t know. Both characters who receive those calls represent all of us, the viewers, and we identify with the challenges that the characters face.
In Cellular, Chris Evans plays the character of Ryan, a kind of conceited, self-centered individual who cares more about the next girl he is going to pick up than he does about the world around him. His primary objective is himself. That quickly changes though, as he receives a call on his cell phone while running an errand to impress his current love interest. On the other end of the line is Jessica Martin, played by Kim Basinger. Maritn has been kidnapped by Greer, played by one of my favorite actors, Jason Statham from The Transporter. We don’t know exactly why she has been kidnapped, but we know that Greer means business. He has already beaten her, and killed another individual. Once she is alone, Martin decides to try and wire together a phone that has been blasted with a baseball bat by Greer, and while touching phone wires she connects with Ryan. He doubts the call and is about to hang up when Greer walks in on Martin and proceeds to slap and threaten her. She manages to hide the phone just as Greer walks in, and keeps Ryan on the line. It is then that he realizes that everything about his day, everything about his life, has just changed. The progression of seeing his character change as a result is a reaffirming lesson in human ability.
After the above events, Ryan decides to seek help from the police. It is then that soon-to-be-retiring police officer Mooney, played by brilliant character actor William H. Macy, enters the story. Through a series of events and challenges in his own life, he is drawn into the story as well. Mooney has some growing to do and some life lessons to learn. He is another one that we see change over the course of the movie. Each of these characters are dependent on each other. Much like the analogy of a family, even though one member of the family may not know the other, there are times that help is needed. In those situations, it is not as important to be close as it is to be willing, that is, willing to help and care for those we come into contact with.
Cohen does a brilliant job of character development. By the end of the story, we have these four characters, plus several others, that we know enough about to care. Cohen’s ability to draw the audience in to the characters is one of his strengths as a writer. As the story progresses we find ourselves not only caring about the individuals involved, but we find ourselves asking questions like “What if?” What if one of us were actually involved in the story? What would we do? The challenge of answering those questions is one of the things that makes this movie worthwhile.
Cohen has another strong ability that I appreciate, that is not only telling a character-driven story, but also telling that story with action, comedy and a fast pace. Boredom is never a problem for the audience watching his movies, and it was certainly something that never entered my mind in this story. As a part of this tribute, recognition also has to be given to Screenwriter Chris Morgan and Director David R. Ellis. This team of filmmakers has taken the lessons from Phone Booth and applied them not just to the story, but to the making of this movie.
As mentioned above, Cellular is filled with challenges to the audience. What role will we play in helping those around us? What sacrifices are we willing to make? Do we realize that our inaction has life-threatening consequences? While Cellular uses a kidnapping to address such issues, those decisions are decisions we make everyday, whether they be physical or spiritual. The theme of “we can all make a difference,” as portrayed in such movies as It’s a Wonderful Life, is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
The reality that each individual can make a difference is a theme that we all need to hear and act on. Sometimes the chances that we turn away from have consequences for those that we don’t even know. Fortunately, those very people can become real to us if we act on what we know, that is: when given the opportunity, we should help. It might be something simple, like opening the door for someone we don’t know, or returning a lost wallet, but the truth is that our actions affect others. Cellular takes that concept to the extreme but the lessons can be applied on a much simpler level.
I enjoyed everything about this movie, it was thought-provoking, fast-paced, and loads of fun with positive life reflections and challenges. I have been sold: if there is another similar themed movie by Cohen, I won’t wait until the 4th or 5th week of release to see it. I’ll be there right off the bat because so far, for me, he is batting a thousand on this formula.
On a scale of 1-10, for the number of digits in a phone number plus an extra one for Larry Cohen, I’ll give it an affirming 8.